Back pain is very common and normally improves within a few weeks or months. Pain in the lower back is particularly common, although it can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the neck down to the hips. In most cases the pain is not caused by anything serious and will usually get better over time.
How to relieve back pain
The following tips may help reduce your backache and speed up your recovery:
- Stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities – this is one of the most important things you can do, as resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse
- Try exercises such as walking, swimming, Yoga or Pilates.
- Use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief – you can buy these from your local pharmacy, or a hot water bottle or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth will work just as well.
Getting help and advice
Back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks or months and you may not need to see a doctor or other healthcare professional.
But, get help if:
- the pain does not start to improve within a few weeks
- the pain stops you doing your day-to-day activities
- the pain is very severe or gets worse over time
- you’re worried about the pain or are struggling to cope
A Massage Therapist or Physiotherapist will provide help and advice where necessary and can signpost you towards the most appropriate treatment and self help.
Causes of back pain
Often it’s not possible to identify the cause of back pain. Doctors call this non-specific back pain.
Occasionally back pain can be caused by a medical condition such as:
- A slipped (prolapsed) disc – where a disc of cartilage in the spine presses on a nearby nerve
- Sciatica – irritation of the nerve that runs from the pelvis to the feet
These conditions tend to cause additional symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation, and they’re treated differently from non-specific back pain.
Preventing back pain
It’s difficult to prevent back pain, but the following tips may help reduce your risk:
- Do regular back exercises and stretches – a Massage Therapist or Physiotherapist may be able to advise you about exercises to try
- Stay active – doing regular exercise can help keep your back strong
- Avoid sitting for too long when driving or at work
- Take care when lifting – read some safe lifting tips
- Check your posture when sitting, using computers and watching television.
- Ensure the mattress on your bed supports you properly
Lose weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise if you’re overweight – being overweight can increase your risk of developing back pain
When to get immediate medical advice
You should contact a GP or NHS 111 immediately if you have back pain and:
- Numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks
- Difficulty passing urine
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- Chest pain
- A high temperature of 38C or above
- Unexplained weight loss
- A swelling or a deformity in your back
- It does not improve after resting or is worse at night
- It started after a serious accident, such as after a car accident
These problems could be a sign of something more serious and need to be checked urgently.